By Claire West

New research from Bacs Payment Schemes Limited (Bacs) shows customer loyalty is rising for Direct Debit customers, with an increase in the number of bill payers saying they are less likely to switch suppliers if they've committed to this payment method.

The Bacs Family Finance Tracker revealed that those agreeing they'd be unlikely to move if they paid by Direct Debit had risen from 38% in 2009 to 44% in 2010 - only 26% said payment method wasn't a factor in changing providers.

Graham Callaghan, Bacs' energy sector manager, said: "Our research has shown that 79% of customers have a positive attitude to Direct Debit, as well as being less likely to look at moving away from their existing provider - that's an opportunity for energy companies to increase their retention, especially during a period where competition between suppliers and tariffs is so keen.

"The wealth of comparison sites now available makes it much easier for a customer to find the intelligence that prompts them to switch providers but Direct Debit is a useful tool for those looking to keep their customer base intact."

With consumers about to enter the heaviest period of energy usage and British Gas customers facing a 7% rise in gas and electricity bills, many may be more prepared to sign up to Direct Debit right now - helping to convert them into potentially loyal, long term customers.

"We know that 63% of consumers prefer to pay all or most of their bills by Direct Debit, so it seems it should take little effort to encourage existing customers to move away from other, more expensive and time consuming payment methods," said Callaghan.